Serling on Science Fiction

Is science fiction a low form of literature, consumed only by a small, niche audience? Not according to Rod Serling.

RS2

In a 1970 interview with professor and author James Gunn (you can watch it below), he explains that science fiction is a more sophisticated form of literature than many critics tend to assume — and one with a much wider audience:

I think the networks have traditionally, and almost ritualistically, short-changed the science-fiction audience, both qualitatively & quantitatively. I don’t think … they’ve given the proper respect to science fiction as a legitimate area of literary attempt. So number one, I think … it’s a high-level literary form, and number two, I think it’s much more than a small cotre of loyal viewers who have read “Amazing Stories” and want to go on. I think it’s a sizeable group, particularly amongst the young.RS3

We live in a society which is so technologically improved and which is so scientifically oriented now, that indeed this is simply a reflection of what is the time around us now. But if I had a group of stories to select, I think by virtue of its mass media form, I would try to chose those stories that, [although] science fiction in genre, would be tellable in … the most acceptable human terms that we now know.

I would probably shy away from the year 2500. I would much rather deal in 1998. The hardware that I use I think should be identifiable – different, of course, because it changes every year, but I would be more prone to think in terms of I would like to know what happens next Thursday, not in the next century.

That last point is key, I think, and helps account for the success of The Twilight Zone. The series was not pure science fiction by any means, but it used science-fiction elements quite effectively to tell what are really human stories at heart.

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About Paul

Hard-working, hard-playing fan of all pop culture, especially the Twilight Zone. Which led to a Twitter page. And then to a blog. And then to ... stay tuned. Yes, that's a picture of Rod Serling, not me. You can find the real me under the "Your Host" tab on my blog, along with biographical details that, while 100 percent accurate, sound kind of boastful and braggy. Sorry.

Posted on 06/28/2012, in Rod Serling and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great post, Paul. But, I have to say, I don’t think that shows like the SyFy Channel is pumping out (e.g., “Predator v. Swamp Gas Man”; “My Baby is a Mosquito”) is really helping matters much. It’s really sad to me so much effort and energy expended writing up and producing scripts like this. Sure, I like “campy” and humorous as much as the next Replicant, but some of these movies don’t even make the attempt to be so — they’re just BAD.

    But, hey, I’m sure there are more than any one reason for this, different buckets of money, etc., but I’m not going to get into that. I’m just going to miss shows like “Eureka,” which IS campy (and très well done at that, aussi!), but has EXCELLENT characterization. It should be used as model to…that “other” stuff.

  2. You make some good points. I think every genre deals with that problem — quality shows/books/movies being outnumbered by less-than-stellar entries — and sci fi is no exception. But there’s also a lot to like out there.

    Think of how things have changed since Serling said this. In 1970, there was no SyFy channel showing science fiction 24/7/365; now it can devote an entire day to nothing but Twilight Zone. And the regular networks have stepped up their game, too. Think of shows like Lost and Fringe, which are very much descendants of the Twilight Zone.

  3. True enough, but that’s about all I watch on SyFy anymore because of the change in their programming. I have to admit I’m really disappointed in their current format. I’ve watched more SF shows on other networks, as you say.

    Ironic?!

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